THE World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society is the title of a new research study published by the Pew Research Center – and it makes for grim reading.
The survey involved more than 38,000 face-to-face interviews in 80-plus languages with Muslims across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa – but not Saudi Arabia and Iran, where, the researchers note:
Political sensitivities or security concerns prevented opinion research among Muslims.
Asked, for example, whether the death penalty should be imposed on those who leave Islam, the answer was a resounding “Yes” in countries such as Egypt (86 percent), Jordan (82 percent), Afghanistan (79 percent) and Malaysia (62 percent).
Asked whether women must always obey their husbands, 96 percent of Malaysian Muslims said “Yes”. Closely behind was Afghanistan (94 percent), Indonesia (93 percent) and Morocco (92 percent).
On the subject of homosexuality, Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa proved the most homophobic, with 99 percent in Cameroon saying it was “morally unacceptable”. Closely behind was Ethiopia (98 percent), Ghana (97 percent) and Nigeria (94 percent). The country that scored lowest was was Kosova, where “only” 73 percent regarded it as unacceptable.
In a summary of the survey, Pew says the percentage of Muslims who say they want sharia to be “the official law of the land” varies widely around the world, from fewer than one-in-ten in Azerbaijan (eight percent) to near unanimity in Afghanistan (99 percent). But solid majorities in most of the countries surveyed across the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia favour the establishment of sharia, including 71 percent of Muslims in Nigeria, 72 percent in Indonesia, 74 percent in Egypt and 89 percent in the Palestinian territories.
On a more positive note, the survey finds that even in many countries where there is strong backing for sharia, most Muslims favor religious freedom for people of other faiths. In Pakistan, for example, three-quarters of Muslims say that non-Muslims are very free to practice their religion, and fully 96% of those who share this assessment say it is “a good thing.”
Yet 84 percent of Pakistani Muslims favour enshrining sharia as official law. These seemingly divergent views are possible partly because most supporters of sharia in Pakistan – as in many other countries – think Islamic law should apply only to Muslims. Moreover, Muslims around the globe have differing understandings of what sharia means in practice.
Many Muslims favour democracy over authoritarian rule, believe that humans and other living things have evolved over time and say they personally enjoy Western movies, music and television – even though most think Western popular culture “undermines public morality”.
At least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they are concerned about religious extremist groups in their country, including two-thirds or more of Muslims in Egypt (67 percent), Tunisia (67 percent), Iraq (68 percent), Guinea Bissau (72 percent) and Indonesia (78 percent). On balance, more are worried about Islamic extremists than about Christian extremists.